Boat Journal

Chronicling a love affair with sailing

Month: June 2012

The Long Road

Well, it’s that time of year again. The Cock Island Race is next Saturday. But family obligations left me with little vacation time. So, rather than taking the boat from Yorktown to Hampton on Thursday, then Hampton to Portsmouth on Friday, we took the boat up to Hampton on Sunday. This did offer the advantage that I had a weekend to check for optimal weather, rather than being locked into a single day.

Saturday and Sunday looked to be the same, weather wise: beautiful if you were on land or lounging at the beach, not exactly optimal for sailing. There was to be some breeze in the morning, but nothing in the afternoon. And the high temperature was expected to be 90. In other words, we’d have wind when it was cool in the morning and be roasting in the afternoon with no wind to cool us.

My crew for the day: Paul, Grant and Bette, were open on Sunday, so that’s the day we picked.

We were taking the boat to the Hampton Public Piers this time.  They offered a special with every 3rd night free and, if you paid for their annual ‘preferred guest’ pass, it was only $.75/foot/night as opposed to $1.50 – $1.75/foot/night at the other two places: Old Point Comfort and Salt Ponds. It would be about an hour farther than Salt Ponds, and we had made Salt Ponds before with no problem. Heck! We’d made it home from Hampton Public Pier last year without a hitch. So I decided to throw caution to the wind and not bring a generator for backup power this time.

The morning was beautiful. Not much sailing, since the breezes were light. But the sails were shading us from the sun and the temperature was pleasant. Early afternoon was about the same. We did get pushed by the wind a bit. But it was mostly motorsailing we were doing to keep the speeds up to at least 2.5 knots.

We did get some following winds to push us along. But the winds were fickle, changing direction enough that Grant and I got alot of practice putting up and down the whisker pole.

We had the autopilot on most of the time. I’d pick a marker at the end of whatever straight course we needed to follow. Paul would look it up on his phone’s Navionics app and give me the coordinates and I’d plug them into the Garmin 76CX GPS. This was much easier than finding the mark on that tiny map that the device gives, and it saved us using up Paul’s phone batteries by relying on it as the primary GPS device.

Towards mid-afternoon, Bette took over at the helm and the wind kicked up. I swear she brought the wind gods to our attention finally. We had had a bit of sailing before, but the winds had been so fickle that we have to be cautious that we were not losing ground by sailing back the way from which we had come. But after Bette took over, just past Salt Ponds, the winds were in our favor.  We were heeling 20 – 30 degrees and moving at quite  a clip – and in the right direction.

It was beautiful! I was finally able to turn off the engine. We were riding smooth. And the wind was keeping us from getting hot in the afternoon.

Paul's photo of us zipping along

[Photo by Paul Gregory]

We spent about an hour doing this, making our way towards the Hampton Roads Bridge Tunnel, trying to figure out who the ships were that we were seeing and just enjoying the chance to finally sail.

I took over the helm as we approached the tunnel. I turned back on the engine and kept us at about 2 – 2.5 knots, mindful of the fact that the display showed us with about 2-1/2 hours of battery life left at that point.

When we got to Bluewater Marine, the first marina in the downtown Hampton area, I asked Paul to take over the helm. As soon as I did, you could hear the engine ramp down. Paul pushed the throttle up the entire way and it didn’t change things. We had already put the sails down, and we had a following breeze, so I tried to pull the jib out. It got stuck about halfway, something it had done the last couple of times we had brought it out. If I went to the roller, pulled it back to roll the sail back on, then let it go, it would work. I’ll need to look at it next week when I have a few experts around.

I had tried several times to hail the dockmaster and received no answer. I called and left a message on her cell. Someone on the radio said she’d gone home for the day, that I should just find a slip and talk to her in the morning.

The engine gave up about 15 minutes after Paul went behind the wheel. But we had the current with us and the jib. So we sailed into the Hampton Public Piers.

The first slip we found was right beside the one marked for the water taxi and dinghy tie-up. I wasn’t sure that we could use it, so we moved down the dock. We finally found #12 open and turned in. We were only going about 1 kt at that point, so we could pull ourselves along the side of our neighbor into the slip. I jumped off the bow onto the dock and stopped the boat. We did bump lightly into the pier but sustained no damage. We tied up, ensuring we had a good spring line to avoid bumping into the pier.

I was very grateful for the crew I had. They knew what they were doing and there was no word of complaint, even after the heat hit us bad once the engine gave out. They worked together efficiently as a team to get the boat safely into the docks. I’m very happy they were with me.

I was wondering, as we were drifting in, whether we could have used the house batteries, which are on a separate circuit and still had plenty of juice as a backup to get us into the slip. Since the batteries are quite different, although both are 12V, I don’t know if any damage would be caused. I’m going to put a note out to the electric boat mailing list and an email to Electric Yacht to get some insight. I’ll post what I find here.